I wrote this weekly column for the Daily Chronicle in DeKalb,
Illinois from December 2007 until May 2011.
If you've missed any please follow the links on the dates
to catch up.
A note to readers: After 3½ years of meeting
weekly deadlines, I have decided to take a break from column
writing. So my column next week will be the final one. I have
appreciated the chance to interact with so many readers, and
I hope to return to writing after taking some time off.
Home | Columns |
Photos | Books
| Biography | Links
DeKalb had role in first guided missile
By Barry Schrader.................................May
drone. The Interstate plant workers assembled the aircraft
next door. Today that building is owned by General Electric.
You can still see the large hangar doors on the plant from Peace
Roger Keys earlier this month shared his research on the
work done at the Wurlitzer and Interstate Aircraft plants in
DeKalb during World War II with members of the DeKalb County
Keys told how
he had picked up a model plane at a garage sale in Waterman for
$5 more than 20 years ago and no one could identify it for years.
Finally, someone who worked at Wurlitzer during World War II
told him it was a drone they built for the Navy. Keys passion
for tracking down more details has kept him engaged for nearly
It all started in 1942 when Wurlitzer
signed a contract with the Navy to convert its peacetime piano
factory into an aircraft production facility, along with an adjacent
plant, Interstate Aircraft. It took Wurlitzer just seven months
to completely retool its facility and start manufacturing parts
for the mostly wooden
Roger Keys shows off his model of the TDR assault drone, which
were planes used during World War II. The parts were manufactured
at the Wurlitzer plant in DeKalb and built at the adjacent Interstate
Aircraft plant. (Barry Schrader photo)
Since it was classified as a top secret
wartime project, the 1,400 employees believed they were producing
a trainer plane or a target drone. Little did they know the aircraft
was an assault drone that could carry a 2,000-pound bomb to its
target while being remotely controlled from a nearby mother plane.
It was actually known as the first guided missile
ever used in combat, Keys said. During a two-year period
there were 189 planes built at the DeKalb complex. They were
then delivered to a remote island base in the South Pacific where
they were readied for missions against Japanese targets.
The plane was designed with a fully-operational cockpit
with canopy so a pilot could fly it up to 700 miles before landing
and converting to a remote-control system. The control plane,
which could be up to six miles away, transmitted radio signals
to guide the flight, including the drones speed and altitude.
Keys explained that the main component that made
it top secret was a television camera mounted in the nose behind
a glass shield. The crew in the mother ship could watch the picture
being transmitted from the nose of the drone and use it to pinpoint
the target on the ground or sometimes an enemy ship.
the years he has talked to many of the former workers at the
two DeKalb plants and said none of them realized it was actually
operational in the South Pacific. I like to see credit
given to those on the homefront here in DeKalb for their efforts
in World War II, he added. At the conclusion of the project
there was a special ceremony held at the Egyptian Theatre in
DeKalb where the workers were presented with the Army-Navy E
for Excellence Award.
Keys also told the audience
that the drone will be featured on a future episode of the PBS
TV series History Detectives, tentatively scheduled
to air July 17. It seems when he was making a presentation in
the fall at the DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport someone in the
audience had apparently found a wooden propeller many years ago
on a grass airstrip near Virgil. The man still had it and wanted
to find out if it might possibly belong to the drone. The man
later contacted the History Detectives producers
and they took an interest in researching the mystery. Keys assisted
them with photos and other material he has in his collection.
He would like to find some of the former plant workers
and others interested in the plane so he can organize a special
viewing of the show in DeKalb. Anyone interested can contact
him through email at email@example.com or by mail at 1204 Elizabeth
St., DeKalb, IL, 60115.
The columnist can be reached via email at :
or by snailmail at:
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115